The men and women for the longest time have been considered humans of two polar opposite characteristics. Women, on one hand, are called empathetic, caring, gentle, and loving, men, on the other hand, are associated with competition, aggression, leadership, and strength, etc. This stereotyping of men and women on the basis of these characteristics has reached to an extent where these words have become almost synonymous with each gender. This phenomenon in recent times has resulted in an organic bias, where situations related to the attributes of either of these sexes are purely studied through gendered lenses. A very distinguished example of this is the negligence of women in the studies on terrorism, where most researchers have put women in the category of the controlled group.
There is no denying of the fact that women play a central role in society. The normative restrictions put on women in patriarchal societies have allowed them to take the role of the sole nurturer. This makes women strategic for a terrorist organization in fostering a certain ideology. Maulana Fazlullah, the leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, among many took advantage of the vulnerability of women in Swat to manipulate them in favor of his radical messages. Also known as Fazal Hayat, Fazlullah reached the pinnacle of his radical mission via, the then widely used, FM radio. He illegally started a radio channel, which eventually people took to calling Mullah Radio. From hindering women’s education to exploiting them to sell their jewelry to contribute to his cause, Fazlullah used FM radio to the best of his abilities to engage women in spreading his messages in a domestic level.
In addition to their role in domesticating radicalism, women are exploited primarily because of the amount of leeway they get in security check posts considering the ethics of our society. This has helped many terrorist groups to attack heavy security areas with female suicide bombers.
If we analyze women’s participation in terror through structural lenses, it gets very evident that women are motivated on the basis of patriarchal norms. One of the ways to gauge the root of women’s manipulation into terrorism is to check women’s role in a patriarchal society. Women under a patriarchal system are expected to follow and look after the men in the family, and if they are hurt, the women are expected to seek revenge. The idea of women being the spoon feeder of men have motivated and tempted many women to join and back men in the acts of terrorism.
The question of whether women voluntarily participate in acts of terrorism or they are manipulated into it still puzzles scholars. Nikita Malik, an internationally recognized research expert in the field of terrorism and hate-based violence, suggests that terrorist groups prey on women who are at a disadvantage in society. Women who are isolated as a result of domestic violence, discrimination, and lack of representation are more likely to join armed forces primarily motivated by the narrative that they will alter the ills of life regardless of a regime. This narrative is further strengthened by a terrorist organization with the use of the word Jihad, which is deliberately misrepresented to exploit women. While Malik’s point does reflect the actions of terrorist groups about the exploitation of women, it does not address instances where women lead terrorist groups.
For the longest time, women’s role in spreading terror has been that of the supporter. However, they have transitioned to a more active role. The image of women as promoters of terrorism could rightly be reflected in the video that went viral over social media where Rehan Baloch’s mother can be seen preparing him for the suicide attack. Rehan Baloch was identified as the suicide bomber of the banned Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) who aimed at the bus carrying employees of Saindak Copper-Gold Project in Dalbandin, Chagai Balochistan,the previous year in August.
The example of Rehan and his mother is very crucial because both 22-year-old Rehan, and his mother seemed to be brainwashed into blindly supporting terrorist acts. Aslam Baloch, Rehan’s father, who is also affiliated with the Balochistan Liberation Army, in this case, served as the mobilizer. Considering Rehan’s age, his mother should have been preparing him to go to university, but both a lower socio-economic background and terrorist exploitation drift them from the reality a youth deserves. Rehan would have been enrolled in a university, had it not been for the manipulation he and so many his age had to face in the remote areas of Balochistan. Common in Fazlullah’s Swat and Rehan’s town is that both towns lack educated youth and women, which make them prone to terrorist manipulation.
While many instances show that women have been manipulated into committing terrorist acts, a great chunk of evidence says otherwise. According to some, women have always engaged in terrorist acts out of political commitment. The female fighters in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE), who fought against the Sri Lankan government for an independent state of Tamil Eelam is one the many examples used to back this claim. An example of women militant groups close to home is that of women alumnae of Jamia e Hafsa who pledged to extend support to ISIS in a video. Despite these shreds of evidence, and claims of women participating because of their commitment to certain causes, it is unclear whether these women voluntarily participate in extremist groups or not.
The debate around women’s participation in acts of terrorism is broad, and for the most part unclear because of the lack of unbiased researches. If anything clear comes out of the existing discourse is the fact that lack of education, social security, and mobilization make women more vulnerable to taking up militant roles. A great response to militants’ organizations would be to have women play an active role against terrorism through education.